[Paleopsych] NYT: The Internet's Future? It Depends on Whom You Ask

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Mon Jan 10 22:05:14 UTC 2005

The Internet's Future? It Depends on Whom You Ask
NYT January 10, 2005

Few topics inspire trips to the crystal ball like
technology, although hasty predictions have often only
provided future generations with quotes for cocktail party

Ken Olson, founder of the Digital Equipment Corporation,
remarked in 1977, for instance, that there was no reason
anyone would want a computer in their home. And Harry M.
Warner, a co-founder of Warner Brothers Studios, is well
known for wondering, near the end of the silent-picture
era, who would want to hear actors talk.

Still, as industries, courts, legislatures and other social
institutions struggle to keep pace with each new
technological innovation, the desire to peer around the
corner is a natural one.

Last September, the Pew Internet & American Life Project, a
research organization in Washington, sent out a survey
asking 24 questions about the future of the Internet to a
wide range of technology specialists, scholars and industry
leaders. Some 1,200 responded and, as you might expect,
widespread agreement is hard to find.

Some of the more cherished notions of the Internet age -
that it isolates people from real-world interaction, for
instance, or that people use the Web to find reinforcement
for their political views and filter out opposing ones -
generate deeply divided views among the specialists. Some
42 percent of respondents agreed with the assertion that
civic involvement will increase in the next 10 years as
people seek and find organizations to join online; nearly
30 percent disagreed. Roughly 40 percent viewed the
proliferation of online medical resources as a potential
boon to health care management and access; 30 percent of
the specialists thought that unlikely.

One assertion on which there was widespread agreement was
that the infrastructure of the Internet will be the target
of "at least one devastating attack" in the next 10 years.
Sixty-six percent of respondents agreed.

But even here, there was dissent. "If you mean very costly,
yes," wrote one respondent in the survey. "If you mean a
failure that cascades to other segments of society, with
widespread suffering or loss of life, then no."

Still, for investors, policy makers and others interested
in getting a glimpse of what might be just over the
horizon, there are hints to be had.

The survey results solidly confirm what media watchers may
already know (and perhaps fear): that the Internet and the
rise of the blogger are expected to drive greater change in
the news media and publishing industries than in any other
sector of society. Internet specialists also expect broad
changes in education and working life, and 50 percent of
respondents say they believe - despite all of the lawsuits
filed by the recording and movie industries against online
pirates - that the vast majority of Internet users will
still be freely trading digital materials via anonymous
networks by 2014.

The predictions are being added to a growing online
database called Imagining the Internet, developed jointly
by the Pew Project and Elon University in North Carolina.

The database, at www.elon.edu/predictions, includes more
than 4,000 predictive statements made by hundreds of
technology specialists during the dawn of the Internet era
- roughly 1990-95.

"Every one of us, we know it's not going to pan out exactly
the way we think," said Barry Wellman, a professor of
sociology at the University of Toronto who participated in
the survey and a co-editor of the 2002 book, "The Internet
in Everyday Life."

"But it gets us focusing on what some of the alternatives
could be."

The specialists might one day eat their words. But so too
might those who dare to dismiss them.

"He only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in
high schools," The New York Times wrote in a withering 1920
editorial dismissing the physics behind Robert Goddard's
assertion that rocket travel - and perhaps even a visit to
the moon - might one day be possible. A retraction was
printed in 1969, as Apollo 11 set off for the moon.

"The Times," the editorial said, "regrets the error."


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